Combustion off? Expert on the Wissing plan: “E-fuels are campaign junk”

How should Germany become more climate-friendly? This question is currently causing discord in the federal government. Sharp criticism comes from expert Claudia Kemfert.

The traffic light coalition is arguing about its climate policy: the plans to ban new gas and oil heating systems are causing homeowners to fear high costs and calls for an increase in state subsidies are getting louder. Meanwhile, in Brussels, Transport Minister Volker Wissing (FDP) opposed the long-decided phasing out of combustion engines, upsetting the EU Commission and other countries alike.

All of this is about fundamental questions: How much should climate protection cost? How much ban can there be? And how useful are the discussions anyway? Questions for climate economist Claudia Kemfert from the German Institute for Economic Research.

t-online: Ms. Kemfert, Germany has achieved its 2022 climate target. The main reason for this: the energy crisis, which has pushed down emissions. Does war benefit the climate?

Claudia Kemfert: In fact, emissions have fallen primarily in the industrial sector. This is not the result of climate protection, but of the price increases, especially for natural gas. We are in the midst of a fossil fuel war, in the fossil fuel endgame.

At the same time, the government introduced the price cap for fossil energy – which runs counter to climate protection. And with the construction of the liquefied gas terminals, we are once again making ourselves more dependent on fossil natural gas.

So the war is actually slowing down the energy transition?

The traffic light agreed on the measures that really accelerate the energy transition in the coalition agreement before the start of the war. But then the government spent a year focusing on overcoming the acute crisis. In this respect, Germany has lost valuable time and is paying an enormously high price for it. The price of the postponed energy transition is already huge anyway.

Claudia Kemfert
(Source: Oliver Betke)

Claudia Kemfert has headed the “Energy, Transport, Environment” department at the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW Berlin) since 2004. She also teaches as a professor for energy economics and energy policy at the Leuphana University of Lüneburg. Kemfert is co-chair of the Federal Government’s Advisory Council on the Environment and a member of the Executive Committee of the German Society of the Club of Rome. She is also an author and appears regularly in the media as an expert on climate and energy issues.

The energy sector just barely met its target, but emissions from buildings and transport were above again. The FDP would like to do away with the sector targets entirely and instead focus on emissions trading. How can this work?

This can only work if the prices for heating and fuel increase massively. What the FDP is concealing: only relying on emissions trading means relying solely on price signals. Climate goals can only be achieved by massively increasing the price of fossil energies – precisely through increased CO2 prices.

Does that mean the consumer pays for it?

It gets really expensive for owners of oil and gas heaters and combustion cars. As I know the FDP, we will then have the next discussion about fuel discounts and gas price brakes.

What is the suggestion then?

I see it more as a cover-up tactic. The transport sector under FDP Minister Volker Wissing is completely behind. The list of failures in the transport sector is getting longer and longer.

Nevertheless, Wissing blocked the end of combustion engines at EU level so that combustion engines with e-fuels remain possible.

Exactly. Not only do I think that doesn’t make sense, but it also doesn’t work. E-fuels are nothing but campaign junk.

But that’s the way it is! The e-fuels for this are not even on the market. A maximum of 10 percent of the e-fuel requirement in Germany could be covered by the currently planned projects by 2035. What’s more, we need e-fuels for areas where we don’t have any primarily electric alternatives, namely in air and shipping traffic and, to some extent, also in heavy-duty traffic. In normal car traffic, on the other hand, there are much cheaper, more efficient options.

Yes. If you compare e-cars and e-fuels, you need five to seven times as much electricity to produce e-fuels for the same output. And a liter will probably cost more than five euros. The market has long since decided. But car manufacturers need planning security.

A compromise with the EU Commission should now allow combustion engines that demonstrably only fill up with e-fuels. Is this doable?

Appropriate sensors can certainly be installed, but that too is inefficient and expensive. It’s just nonsensical from start to finish. E-fuels in cars are pure waste.


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